Two UC Davis Health patients with COVID-19 have received plasma transfusions from a blood donor who recovered from the virus in an effort to boost the sick patients’ abilities to neutralize the virus and its devastating effects.

Image/Hannah A Bullock; Azaibi Tamin

The patients are the first at UC Davis to receive the treatment, which is part of the Expanded Access Protocol approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The therapy is for hospitalized patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and who have or are at risk for severe or life-threatening outcomes.

Plasma taken from a patient who has recovered from a disease is referred to as convalescent plasma. The passive antibody therapy aims to give immediate immunity to someone who is susceptible to the virus. The approach has a long history of use in medicine, dating back to the 1890s — well before antibiotics were discovered.

“While we do not know exactly if passive antibody therapy will be effective for all COVID-19 patients, history is on our side,” said Allison Brashear, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. “Convalescent plasma has been effective for treating patients with other infectious diseases, including measles, mumps and hepatitis A. It’s also been successful in other coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS-1 and Middle East respiratory syndrome. This gives us hope for treating SARS-CoV2 as well.”

The therapy involves obtaining blood from a donor who recovered from COVID-19 and whose blood is presumed to contain neutralizing antibodies, which are believed to prevent the virus from infecting cells. Recipients and donors must have the same blood types.

The national initiative includes physicians and investigators from UC Davis and 39 other institutions who  united to offer convalescent plasma during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We think passive antibody therapy works by neutralizing the virus or down-regulating the inflammatory response,” said George Thompson, principal investigator of the study at UC Davis and a professor of infectious diseases and medical microbiology and immunology. “Collecting data will help us better understand exactly how it works and how best to use this therapy to treat patients.”

The expanded access protocol and future clinical trials will help give physicians an objective measure of the therapy’s effectiveness and under what conditions the approach has the most value, such as in prevention vs. treatment, and in which patient populations.

Thompson is collaborating on the project with David Unold, co-principal investigator and an assistant clinical professor of pathology and laboratory medicine who specializes in blood banking and transfusion services. Sarah Barnhard, medical director of transfusion services, also is a collaborator.

Call for donations of convalescent plasma

UC Davis Medical Center is partnering with Vitalant in Sacramento to collect blood for convalescent plasma. To donate, you must:

  • Have had a positive nasal swab or antibody test for COVID-19
  • Have been completely free of symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 28 days
  • Be evaluated as a potential blood donor at Vitalant and fulfill all eligibility criteria for blood donation

To donate specifically for patients at UC Davis Health, contact Sarah Barnhard, medical director of UC Davis Transfusion Services, at [email protected]. Your positive nasal swab or antibody test must have been completed at UC Davis to donate.

Download donor form (PDF)

More information about donating to the general blood supply for the Sacramento region is available online at Vitalant: More information about the convalescent plasma therapy protocol is available at the National Institutes of Health and